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The Russian Berdans (M1868 Russian Berdan I and M1870 Russian Berdan II) were designed by General Hiram Berdan, a prolific designer who also designed the Spanish Berdan system, with the assistance of Russian officers Gorlov and Gunnius. The rifle was the main rifle of the Russian Army until Mosin Nagant M1891 was put into service. Aside from Russian Empire, Berdan M1870 rifles were used by Bulgaria, Ethiopia, Mongolia and some other countries.

Design Details[]

Berdan I[]

This version, manufactured by Colt in the USA, is known as the model of 1868, or Berdan I. It is a hammerless "trapdoor" breechblock design, and was manufactured in limited numbers (the contract stipulated 30,000) as a full length infantry rifle. Colt also manufactured a few half-stock Berdan I cavalry carbine prototypes, but these were never adopted for Russian service. Colt even produced a few target rifles based on the Berdan I. The Russian Berdan I is a forward lifting block design much like the Spanish Berdan, Albani-Braendlin and "Trapdoor" Springfield rifles. The rifle mounted a straight line striker, similar to the Albani, but without the external hammer, the striker being driven by an internal coil spring. As the striker moved forward it locked the breech block in place, much like the Albani. The bolt has a cocking spur which juts up from the back end.

Berdan II[]

This rifle is a bolt action pattern with a comparatively small bolt which acts as the rifle's sole locking lug, locking against the split bridge receiver as so many bolt action arms of this period did (e.g., Gras and Beaumont). It fired a 10.66mm Berdan primed cartridge. Sights are graduated in Russin arshin. The rifle was initially built in England, and later by the Russians at several Imperial arsenals when they received appropriate machinery and were up and running. The rifle is very conventional looking for single shot military bolt-actions of this period except for it's slender bolt and very short, small pear shaped bolt handle that, when fully cocked, turned only at about 45 degrees and not the 90 degrees seen on virtually all other bolt-actions. It is a long rifle (965mm overall) and most examples carry cryllic markings on the top of the barrel adjacent to the serial number ahead of the knoxform. The top of the knoxform is stamped with the Russian Imperial Czarist eagle with cypher. The inspector's cypher is punched on the barrle, receiver and other parts.


Berdan I M1868 Infantry Rifle[]


Berdan I M1868 Carbine[]


In 1873 a number of Berdan I rifles were shortened to a Carbine length for trial purpose. The Carbine was stocked to the muzzle, with no provision for a bayonet.

Berdan II M1870 Infantry Rifle[]

Kiv Berdan rv

Berdan II M1870 Dragoon Rifle[]

Kiv Berdan kaz

This Rifle had no provisions for a bayonet. The sling swivels were slot-mounted.

Berdan II M1870 Cossack Rifle[]


This rifle had no provisions for a bayonet. The sling swivels were slot-mounted. Examples can be found with 2 barrel lengths 20mm apart. This rifle was lacking the trigger guard. It had a ball-trigger (small reeded drum) with a slotted underside. It had 3 barrel bands.

Berdan II M1870 Carbine[]


This Carbine has been noted with both, a single and double barrel bands and had no provisions for a bayonet. The sling swivels were slot-mounted. Very rare.

Berdan Three Line Rifle and Carbine[]


The .42 caliber Berdan cartridge was part of the weapon system designed by Hiram Berdan. Physically the cartridge appears as did many rounds of the day. A lubricated paper wrapped .42 caliber bullet in a brass case that used a primer rather than a percussion cap to ignite the gun powder within it. At the time of its introduction the Berdan rifle cartridge was one of the more powerful cartridges in military service. The bullet weighed about 386 grains and was made of 99% lead and 1% antimony. The powder charge varied by cartridge: 77 grains for the rifle cartridge and 69.5 grains for the carbine cartridge.

The cartridge was used in a variety of weapons during its years of service. All of the .42 caliber Berdan rifles used it, and when the Gorlov gatling gun was introduced in Russia, it too was cambered in .42 caliber. The discovery of smokeless powder in the late 19th century would mean an end to the .42 caliber cartridge, as arms manufacturers began to shift towards smaller calibers with increased range. In Russia the 7.62x54mmR cartridge and the Mosin-Nagant rifle system would move in to replace the .42 caliber Berdan cartridge.